Part of a series on evaluating online tea stores.
A look at Ebay Tea Stores in the areas of quality and selection.
Ebay is different things to different people. It can be a collection of auctions or stores. It can offer new or used items. And the products stores and people involved are in a state of flux. So any evaluation can only be a snapshot of a section of what is out there.
That said, there are a few tea stores I keep my eye on from time to time. They generally have multiple positive reviews and satisfied customers. Many of them are in the country of origin for the teas they sell.
By doing a little homework, it is possible to find a vendor you can trust who can provide enjoyable teas.
Here are the stores I browse (in alphabetical order):
Selection: The great thing about several of these vendors and their stores is that you will find all kinds of yummy teas that you have never heard of or tasted. How many stores (online or brick) can you enter and order an E Mei E Rui, Golden Key AAA+, and a Buddha Hand Da Hong Pao? And some stores offer 3 or more grades of the same kind of tea.
Quality: I don’t recommend assuming that a tea’s grade necessarily implies vast differences in quality, but there can be noticeable differences between grades, both in your cupping experience and pricing. The result is that you can find a tea, then slide along the scale until you find your preferred ratio of quality-to-price.
Your perception and expectations of quality will be a critical factor in choosing whether to order via EBay stores. For China-based stores, the quality of their teas may be certified according to China’s standards. In some cases, boxes have seals with serial numbers. You can go online (to a Chinese site written in Chinese) where you can enter the serial number and verify the tea’s certification. Other times, you are left to trust your vendor.
Shipping from China to your door (in the US or elsewhere) may also be a skirting of customs processing. Small orders of tea don’t get inspected. Large, bulk orders (like the ones that then get repackaged and sold within the destination country) may have to meet more stringent standards and have more testing and a more thorough paper trail behind them. This is one of the advantages, and one of the reason for cost differences between buying from EBay vs a tea retailer in your country.
Another consideration that EBay may not want you to know about- once you have found a vendor you trust, you can contact him/her to place orders directly using PayPal or other payment gateways. Of course, if things go sour, you don’t have the reporting and customer service assurances you would under the EBay umbrella.
Conclusion: EBay offers some tea stores and and varieties of teas may not easily find elsewhere. But you want to wade into the waters before diving.
I would also like to hear about your experiences with EBay stores. I have found a few others I have not yet tried, but could have valuable offerings:
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